Berlin, Germany

18 December 2020

Secretary-General's remarks to the Bundestag

Thank you very much, Mr. President of the Bundestag Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble, for the opportunity to speak here in the German Bundestag today.
Dear Federal President,
Dear Chancellor,
Dear President of the Federal Constitutional Court,
Dear Members of the Bundestag,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Here today in this chamber —before the representatives of the German people — I want to speak from the heart.   
I want to speak German.   
Or, at least, I will try to speak German!  I apologize in advance for any mistakes! 
As you may have noticed, German is not my first language! 

German thinking, leadership and vision have helped to shape my entire political life. 

When I was a young activist deeply involved in the Carnation Revolution and its aftermath in my country of Portugal, Germany provided pivotal support for our transition to democracy and crucial help in building the institutions to make it last. 

When I was a Parliamentarian and then Prime Minister, Germany was always there — saying no to nationalism, and yes to European integration —no to isolationism, and yes to international cooperation and solidarity. 

As UN High Commissioner for Refugees, I saw German compassion and moral leadership lift up the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on earth. 

Now as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I see Germany every day assuming global leadership — mindful of history and the burden of responsibility.

I see Germany stepping up to big challenges.

Germany as “Friedensmacht”.

Germany as a pillar of multilateralism. 

Germans have also contributed to shaping my own worldview.

The philosopher who most influenced my political thinking is a German, Jürgen Habermas. 

He is now in his 90s and continues to produce important works, most recently a landmark history of philosophy.

One of his principal ideas revolves around a distinguishing feature of a modern democracy — the permanent interflow of communication between political decision makers and civil societies.

This constant interaction — this two-way street between politics and people — helps both deepen understanding of issues and forge better solutions.

In other words, participation in public affairs is much more than voting. 

It is the daily lifeblood of democracy.

It is a fundamental human right.

And it is a tool for better policy making. 

The Bundestag is the epicentre of that idea.

I thank you for inviting me here on this 75th anniversary of the United Nations — a year in which we are being tested like never before. 

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world. 

More than a million and a half people have died. 

Economies are reeling. 

Businesses are closing. 

Jobs are disappearing. 

And people everywhere are hurting.

We are moving farther off-track in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Poverty is rising. 

Famine is looming. 

Progress on gender equality has been set back years.

We face the biggest global economic crisis in our lifetimes.

The pandemic has exposed deep fragilities and fault lines — pre-existing conditions in our societies that undermine our shared future.

Inequalities.  Injustice.  Inadequate social safety nets. 

The most vulnerable everywhere are suffering the most.

It is clear that global challenges require global solutions.

Yet we face a deficit of international cooperation.  

It is clear that the way to win the future is through an openness to the world.

Yet in too many places, we see a closing of minds. 

A retreat from the values of the Enlightenment, Europe’s greatest contribution to world civilization. 

A dangerous drift to the false refuge of irrationality. 

A rise in hate speech, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of discrimination — including against Christian minorities and others in some parts of the world. 

History teaches that politics driven by anger, distortion and scapegoating is always — always — a recipe for disaster. 

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

The calendar will soon turn from this difficult year.  But chaos has no regard for calendars. 

Trials will continue.  Some hardships may even grow.

Yet through all the heartache, I see seeds of hope.

And I see Germany planting those seeds.

It is our shared duty to nurture the seeds of hope.

The world needs Germany — and Germany needs the world.

I want to focus briefly on three areas: 

Battling the pandemic. 

Advancing global peace and security. 

And tackling the climate emergency. 

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

Well before the pandemic, Germany was championing global health on the international stage. 

The 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg was the first to include a comprehensive health track.

You have long understood the importance of strengthening global health security, striving for universal health coverage, helping countries build resilient systems to save lives and protect the vulnerable. 

You also recognized the central role of the World Health Organization.

All these efforts served Germany and the world well when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

I commend your early and decisive steps driven by science, local data and local action that suppressed transmission of the virus and saved lives.

I also want to pay tribute to the no-nonsense, steady, compassionate and wise guiding hand of Chancellor Merkel and her government. 

Studies show that women’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic led to more evidence-based, sustainable, inclusive and effective results.  

Germany proves it.  

And your generosity has made a difference around the world.

With the crucial assistance of countries like Germany, the United Nations has mobilized to deliver medical equipment and supplies to 172 countries.

We have extended life-saving aid to 63 of the most vulnerable countries through our Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

Germany’s support has been critical to the Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator and its COVAX facility to develop and equitably distribute vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

The recent breakthroughs offer a ray of hope.

Here from the Bundestag, I want to recognize and applaud Dr. Özlem Türeci and Dr. Ugur Sahin for their enormous contributions to vaccine development. 

Every German should be very proud of their achievements.

Our challenge now is to ensure that vaccines are treated as a global public good — accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.  

A people’s vaccine.

We must also fight the virus of misinformation.

Across the globe, we have seen how populist approaches that ignore science have misled the public.  Coupled with false news and wild conspiracies, things have become manifestly worse. 

That is why the United Nations is provided news and advice people can trust while working to build vaccine confidence guided by science, grounded in facts.

I commend Germany’s leadership under the EU presidency for helping to secure pandemic relief for struggling European economies. 

We also must do much more to ease the plight of many developing and middle income countries facing a debt and liquidity crisis that could threaten the global economy. 

We have put forward a number of proposals to extend a desperately needed economic lifeline.
All of these efforts are vital to save lives and provide an exit strategy out of this epic global economic and human crisis.

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

To focus on our shared battle against COVID-19 — and open spaces for diplomacy and life-saving aid – I appealed for a global ceasefire.

Germany helped spearhead the Security Council resolution supporting this effort. 

It was approved on day one of Germany’s Security Council Presidency in July. 

Around the world, Germany is a vital ally in our push for peace.

I am grateful to Chancellor Merkel for her initiative to convene the Berlin International Conference on Libya last January, bringing together key international actors to agree on a common way out of the crisis.

In Yemen, German military personnel are serving as monitors within the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement.

In Afghanistan, Germany’s long-standing commitment is vital to the peace negotiations. 

In the Sahel region, Germany is playing an important  role as a reliable partner for security, stability and development.

And closer to home, I am grateful to Germany for important contributions to support ongoing peace efforts in Eastern Ukraine in accordance with the Minsk Agreements.

More broadly, Germany has been an essential partner supporting peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and life-saving humanitarian assistance.

You have advocated along with us that peace is only sustainable if women are fully involved in all stages of the process. 

I appeal for your continued strong leadership in all these areas.

And you have shown enormous generosity by hosting Syrian and many other refugees, while contributing vital relief for millions in need inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

Across the board, we must do more to re-establish the integrity of the international refugee protection regime and push back against the wholesale assault on human rights everywhere. 

Our enduring challenge is to transform the values and ambitions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into real change on the ground.
Not some rights — all rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

And we need to apply them to emerging challenges, such as those related to climate change or the digital world.

That is why I issued a Call to Action for Human Rights earlier this year.

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

Our biggest long-term security threat is not from wars on the battlefield. 

It is from the suicidal war being waged on nature.

The climate threat is inescapable and irrefutable.

I salute Germany for working to focus the attention of the Security Council on the issue of climate security.

We see the danger unfolding before our eyes. 

Collapsing biodiversity.

Disappearing ecosystems.

Spreading deserts.

Acidifying and overfished oceans.

Dying coral reefs.

Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes.

Scorching temperatures.

Without concerted action, our planet is headed for a global temperature rise of more than 3 degrees by the end of this century.    

That’s disaster. 

We need action in three areas:  mitigation, finance and adaptation.

Germany has been a driving global force on all fronts.

One year ago, the Bundestag led the way in passing the Federal Climate Change Act, which enshrines in law Germany’s ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030, and to achieve net zero by 2050.

Just days ago, under the German Presidency, the EU endorsed the same ambitious 2030 target.

At the same time, following an extensive domestic process, Germany has committed to phasing out coal and is developing creative proposals for a just and managed transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

We need others to follow your example and help build a Global Coalition for Carbon Neutrality. 

All countries – and in particular all major economies – must come forward with plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

And all countries must enhance, before the next climate conference in Glasgow, the ambition of their 2030 Paris targets.

A quantum leap towards carbon neutrality will not be possible without developing countries.

They will need significant support.

For this, we need developed countries to fulfill their climate finance commitments.

Germany was the first country to pledge €1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund’s replenishment. 

And we must advance on the decade-long goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year for mitigation and adaptation — to which Germany pledged in 2015 to contribute a total of €4.1 billion by 2020.

We need to align global finance behind the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

That means putting a price on carbon — your unique CO2 price including the heating and transport sectors helps show the way.

We must also work everywhere in the world to:

Phase out fossil fuel finance and end fossil fuel subsidies.

Stop the building of new coal power plants.

Shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.

Integrate carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal policies and decisions.

Institute mandatory climate-related financial risk disclosures.

And ensure that all development and private banks commit to align their lending to the global net zero objective.

Even as we strive to mitigate emissions in the future, we need to help countries cope with the impacts happening here and now.  

Adaptation to present and future climate impacts — particularly for least developed countries and small island developing states —cannot be the forgotten component of climate action.

I thank Germany for its strong support of the Adaptation Fund.

Today adaptation represents only 20 per cent of climate finance. 

I am calling on all donors and Multilateral Development Banks to increase that to at least 50 per cent of their climate finance support.  

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

Many other challenges summon us to work together and act. 

The erosion of the nuclear disarmament regime. 
The lawless frontiers of cyberspace.   
The list goes on.
There is a common denominator to overcoming these many tests:  global cooperation.
Germany knows this.

To mark the UN’s anniversary, we worked closely with parliaments, including the Bundestag, to listen to people and understand their hopes and fears for the future.

One finding stood out:   99% of respondents in Germany identified global cooperation as vital to advancing our common goals.


As we look ahead, we need multilateralism that delivers — and a reform of governance structures that is based on present realities and future-focused, not one stuck in the world of 75 years ago.

Both the UN Security Council and the boards of the Bretton Woods institutions are cases in point.

21st century multilateralism must be networked — linking the UN family with other organizations, from International Financial Institutions to regional bodies and trade alliances. 

And 21st century multilateralism must be inclusive — going beyond governments to recognize the role of civil society, regions and cities, business, and academic institutions.

That is the future of multilateralism.

With the support of Germany, I believe we are on our way.

Dear Members of the Bundestag,

In this season of hope, I see seeds of hope. 

We can triumph over adversity.  Together.

That is my message today.

It is also a message symbolized by the life of a remarkable German born on this month 250 years ago.

Ludwig van Beethoven showed that despite whatever difficulties, we must find the space for hope. 

Yes, even joy.

This 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s life gave birth to a fascinating new project called “The Global Ode to Joy”.
Like so much else this year, plans for concerts and large audiences were no longer possible.

But the initiative was not canceled.  It was reinvented. 

And it concluded just days ago with a global choir united in a remarkable and unexpected way.

Thousands of people, across the globe, each from their own homes joined voices.  

They moved the world with words inspired by Schiller and music powered by Beethoven.

What a stirring example for our times. 

Global voices uniting in innovative and meaningful ways to build anew.

That is the pathway to 21st century solutions.
Together, let us nurture the seeds along that path — and give life to a more sustainable, just and joyful world.

Thank you.